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Sunday, December 9, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Northwest Living

Lofty Space & Sweeping Views

CUTLINE: ABOVE - ATTRACTIVE AND FUNCTIONAL, THE SOUTH-FACING GREENHOUSE COLLECTS HEAT AND DISTRIBUTES IT TO OTHER AREAS OF THE HOME USING A THERMOSTAT-CONTROLLED FAN SYSTEM.

CUTLINE: LEFT - IN THE LANDING IS A PAINTING BY JANET LAUREL AND MAQUETTES BY LYNDA ROCKWOOD, CENTER, AND BY OWNER PENNY MULLIGAN, LEFT AND RIGHT. THE CHINESE CHEST IS LINED WITH CAMPHOR WOOD AND ONCE BELONGED TO AN OLD SEA CAPTAIN WHO LIVED IN BILL MULLIGAN'S CHILDHOOD HOUSE.

CUTLINE: WHEN THEY WANT A BREAK FROM WHITE WALLS AND LOFTY SPACES, THE MULLIGANS AND DOG HOWARD HEAD FOR THE ``CAVE'' OFF THE LIVING ROOM. PENNY DESIGNED THE BIRD-ADORNED TABLE AT LEFT.

CUTLINE: A GRASSCRETE DRIVEWAY AND LUSH PLANTINGS HELP SOFTEN THE HOME'S HARD-EDGED GEOMETRY. THE FRONT DOOR IS LOCATED IN A RECESS BEHIND THE ``FLYING BUTTRESS.''

Although its walls aren't made from twigs and grass, Bill and Penny Mulligan's West Seattle home feels like a bird's nest.

Nestled among an outcrop of Madrona trees at the crest of a West Seattle bluff, the home commands a bird's-eye view of Puget Sound, the Olympics and the forested sprawl of Lincoln Park. Eagles swoop outside the windows, and at night the Mulligans are serenaded by the hooting of owls. In late fall, flocks of crows, jays and cedar waxwings engulf the neighboring trees.

Avid bird watchers, the couple think nothing of trekking to Mexico or Tasmania in pursuit of their hobby. But birds were not

foremost in the Mulligans' minds when they first approached David Hewitt of Hewitt Isley architects about designing their home 10 years ago. Penny, an artist, wanted a house with a sculptural interior and plenty of wall space to display art. She also wanted an in-home studio spacious enough to accommodate her towering steel creations, with a separate loading door big enough to get pieces in and out. She and Bill, an eye surgeon, also wanted a home that would rely on the sun's rays as its primary source of

heat.

The decision to go solar was more

a response to the lot than to any environmental agenda.

``We just knew the site was appropriate for it,'' Penny says. ``Why not use it?''

Unlike many solar homes, this one doesn't wear its energy source on its sleeve. A handsome greenhouse integrated into the south side of the structure traps the sun's heat and automatically distributes it to other zones of the home by means of a thermostat-controlled fan system. Besides helping to heat the 3,200-square-foot home, the greenhouse supports a variety of tropical plants, and its space can be used for extra dinner seating for guests.

In order to keep the heat in, Hewitt used triple-glazed windows throughout the

house and added about 50 percent more insulation than what was required by code at the time. All told, the architect figures the energy-conservation elements added about 10 percent to the cost of the structure.

Hewitt has wrapped this energy-efficient program in a sleek, contemporary package. As you pass beneath a flying buttress to the recessed front door, the jutting angles of the stucco-covered exterior give way to an interior dominated by a single space containing the living room, dining area and kitchen. Penny designed the last, a sculptural composition of tall and short cabinets separated from the dining room by a high-topped counter. ``I can stand here and have this wonderful view, and yet I can be part of the entertaining, too,'' she says.

Light penetrates the interior from all angles in every weather, turning the room pink at sunset and yellow-green before the onset of a storm. Marvels Penny, ``No matter what the day is like, it always feels light.''

Changes in ceiling height help define the various living areas within the main room. When the owners want an escape from lofty spaces and

sweeping views, they head to the ``cave,'' a cozy, book-lined niche off the living room where they can read or watch TV. Penny designed a circular stainless-steel table for the room, with abstracted birds and trees adorning the base.

The loft overlooking the main living area contains an office and guest bedroom, which can be closed off from the rest of the home with sliding shoji panels. The panels retract into a wall cavity when not in use. An interior window looking out over the two-story dining room allows the guest room to share that room's light and view without jeopardizing privacy.

It's a short flight of steps from the loft to the small master bedroom. The adjoining bath features a jetted soaking tub with its own view window. A third bedroom, on the bottom floor, accommodates the Mulligans' grown children when they visit.

Before the Mulligans moved into the house in 1983, they lived in a conventional home with traditional furnishings. Instead of tossing out perfectly good furniture,

they asked artist-turned-upholsterer Carol Tate to restyle the pieces to fit their new decor.

Tate took a walnut-framed settee covered with tufted floral upholstery, stripped and restained the wood in a pale finish, then recovered the piece in a teal cotton. An orange corduroy sofa was similarly updated - its arms and cushions given a softer, rounder profile and new beige wool upholstery. A pair of swoop-armed brocade chairs were squared off to go with the sofa, and a pair of ottomans crafted to match the set.

Despite the cost of restyling old furniture (the Mulligans spent $900 in 1983 to redo the sofa alone), Tate thinks the approach makes sense in many cases. ``If it's a very strong, well-built hardwood sofa or chair, or if it has great sentimental value, then it's worth it,'' she says. ``There's a lot of throwaway furniture out there today. I feel like they had some good pieces - only 12 to 15 years old - and they were worth redoing.''

Like the settee, the dining table and chairs featured a dark walnut finish. Penny had the set dipped to strip off the old color, then restained the pieces in the same white-gray finish used in the living room. Suddenly, a formal grouping took on a more relaxed, contemporary look.

On the whole, however, the house doesn't need much furniture. Most of the visual interest comes from the architecture itself, and from the collection of original art the owners have amassed. Paintings by Northwest artists Michael Spafford, Mark Tobey, Joseph Goldberg and Robert Jones adorn the living room, while a pair of fanciful antelope heads by Elaine Hanowell hang like psychedelic hunting trophies from the dining-room wall.

Penny says her own art has changed considerably since she moved into the house. She spends much of her time in her downstairs studio, with its 16-foot-high ceiling and western exposure. There, steel pylons rise from the concrete floor, their sides emblazoned with the spectral colors of the mercurial Seattle sky. Sculptured rods set in steel bases ripple with sound and movement, their kinetic swaying echoing the movement of the tree limbs outside.

SEATTLE WRITER FRED ALBERT REPORTS REGULARLY ON HOME DESIGN FOR PACIFIC, AND IS CO-AUTHOR OF ``AMERICAN DESIGN: THE NORTHWEST,'' PUBLISHED BY BANTAM. RICHARD S. HEYZA IS A SEATTLE TIMES STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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